By ACNS staff
Preaching at the memorial service held at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster , London , on 17 March 2011 for Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan Minister of Minorities, Bishop Tony Robinson, Chair of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Pakistan Focus Group, reflected, "Death came with the fire of the gun. There was no gentle death for Shahbaz Bhatti – as there is also not for many other Christians who are suffering as part of the of minority population of Pakistan."
Shahbaz Bhatti, a Roman Catholic Christian who was part of the Cabinet of the Federal government of Pakistan was murdered by gunmen in Islamabad on March 2.
The service, held in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the High Commissioner of Pakistan was a tribute to a remarkable man who had made a practical difference for the minority populations in his country even though his life was cut short at the age of 42, but also an act of dedication by those present to seek to continue the tasks he had set himself.
Those present were invited to commit themselves to speak out for moderation and tolerance and to seek liberty when confronted with oppression. Candles were lit by all the congregation from a central memorial candle, as a visible sign of people’s determination to keep alive the flame that Bhatti had lit.
As well as the sermon preached by Bishop Robinson, tributes to Minister Bhatti were offered by Alistair Burt MP, Under-Secretary of State in the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Revd Canon Yacub Masih, Chairman of Pakistan Christian Concern and Bishop Alexander Malik of Lahore. All emphasised the Christian commitment and bravery of Shahbaz Bhatti in refusing to be silenced in spite of the threats that were being made against him.
A particularly powerful moment near the beginning of the service came as part of a recording of an interview with Minister Bhatti was played in which he pledged, "Jesus has given me power and wisdom and motivation to serve suffering humanity. I follow the principles of my conscience, and I am ready to die and sacrifice my life for the principles I believe."
One of the central thrusts of Shahbaz Bhatti’s work was to seek the amelioration of the ‘blasphemy laws’ in Pakistan, which are regularly misused against Christians by individuals with personal grudges.
Concluding the service the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, led the congregation in the following prayer:
"God our Father, whose power is shown in compassion and whose justice gives hope to all your creation, strengthen with your mercy and justice all who work for peace and understanding between nations, between communities of faith, and between neighbours. May the gift of your Spirit of truth and peace be poured out especially upon the people and leaders of Pakistan, so that fear may be overcome, prejudice and hatred be taken away, and trust restored.
"We give you thanks for the witness of all who have risked their lives for reconciliation, and pray that all who live at risk because of their faith will know your presence and your blessing, and be given the courage to seek a place at the feet of Jesus. May the people of Pakistan be renewed and revived, an example of just and loving fellowship in the service of the common good; and may the suffering Church there and elsewhere put to flight all the darkness of hatred in human hearts.
All this we ask for the sake of our crucified Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave his life so that all might be reconciled to you in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen."